WASHINGTON -- Veterans of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and cleanup who are stricken with cancer had their hopes dashed Tuesday -- at least temporarily -- of having their illness included among those eligible for help from the government.
Under the new James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act -- which does not cover cancer -- the administrator of the World Trade Center Health Program must periodically review whether cancer can be linked to the 9/11 attacks or cleanup, and added to the list of diseases responders can get help for.
The first such review was released Tuesday, and found there was no basis -- yet -- to add the disease, and that much more study still needs to be done, even 10 years after the horrendous attacks.
Advocates for 9/11 responders were disappointed, but latched onto the promise of further review.
"They couldn't find the evidence, but we have the evidence and we have the statistics," said John Feal, a 9/11 worker who runs the FealGood Foundation.
He pointed to the most tragic proof possible: "We have the funerals," Feal said. "I've been to 53 funerals, and 51 of them were for cancer."
He's counting on several studies being done currently to confirm his belief, including at least one that he expected would be finished in the early fall.
"I'm confident that when the new study comes out, the link will be established," he said.
But he also argued that, when it comes to a population of people who risked themselves for the sake of their country, instead of making them wait on the scientific process, they should be granted the benefit of the doubt -- literally.
"The onus is not on us to proof 9/11 is giving us cancer. The onus is on them to prove that it didn't," Feal said. "There are hundreds if not thousands of responders with cancer from 9/11. The proof is in the newspapers every day, with people dying."
But that is not the way the Zadroga law works, and Dr. John Howard, who runs the WTC Health Program, found the evidence does not yet justify including cancer as something that is treated under the law.
"Based on the scientific and medical findings in the peer-reviewed literature reported in this first periodic review of cancer for the WTC Health Program, insufficient evidence exists at this time to propose a rule to add cancer, or a certain type of cancer, to the List of WTC-Related Health Conditions," says the 93-page review by Howard, though he adds the important hedge that his finding is not the end of the story.
"It is important to point out that the current absence of published scientific and medical findings … does not indicate evidence of the absence of a causal association," Howard wrote, noting that his next review will be done by the middle of next year.
The three main sponsors of the Zadroga Law in the House echoed Feal, saying they were "disappointed," but certain Howard's assessment would change.
"Thankfully, we know that today's announcement is not the last word on the inclusion of cancers in the program," New York Reps. Pete King (R), Carolyn Maloney (D) and Jerry Nadler (D) said in a joint statement. "The collapse of the Trade Center towers released a cloud of poisons, including carcinogens, throughout lower Manhattan and we fully expect that cancers will be covered under our legislation."
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) took it a step further, demanding that Howard speed up the process.
"I am troubled that you do not plan to do another review until ‘early to mid-2012.’ I would specifically request that as new peer-reviewed data emerges, that you reassess your cancer determination each and every time based on the new data," Gillibrand said in a letter to the administrator.
"Responders and their families continue to suffer physically and financially from these deadly cancers, and the longer they have to wait on a cancer determination, the longer our 9/11 heroes will continue to suffer without proper treatment or compensation," she said. "For many responders, this is a matter of life and death and I urge you to do everything possible to speed up this process."
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